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Hoping for medical pot without THC? The DEA just made it illegal

Evidence continues to mount that marijuana, or compounds found in marijuana, can be an effective treatment for a range of serious conditions ranging from chronic pain to multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease. In early studies, according to the American Cancer Society, medical marijuana has been shown to slow or stop the growth of cancerous tumors.

Researchers have had substantial success studying the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, THC, and its main non-psychoactive compound, cannabidiol, or CBD. Both have been shown to be helpful in a number of medical conditions. In fact, a drug containing chemically pure THC called dronabinol and a synthetic cannabidiol called nabilone are already FDA-approved for medical use in the U.S.

Over the last decade, the majority of U.S. states have changed their laws to legalize marijuana for medical use. A few more traditional states were unwilling to legalize a psychoactive compound like THC, but they saw no objection to medications containing CBD, which provides no high.

So why did the DEA just specify CBD as a Schedule I drug?

The drugs listed in Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act are those which are illegal for all purposes. To be Schedule I, drugs must meet these basic criteria:

  • There is no currently accepted medical use for the drug
  • There is no accepted way to safely use the drug under medical supervision
  • There is a high potential for abuse

Reading those over today, you may be surprised that marijuana is a Schedule I drug at all. Its presence in the schedule is presumably based on historical bias and lack of information.

Typically, the decision to change the schedule is up to the Attorney General, although the Drug Enforcement Administration does have the authority to temporarily de-legalize drugs as necessary to avoid an imminent risk to public safety.

In the new rule, which went into effect today, the DEA added a new administration controlled substances control number under Schedule I for marijuana extract -- CBD and any other cannabinoids. This was not done under the DEA's emergency powers but was treated like an update -- an inevitable one meant only to bring our control numbers into compliance with two international treaties.

Yet, the treaties in question have been in place since 1961 and 1971, and there hadn't been any issues before. Why has the DEA chosen this moment to make the sweeping declaration that all marijuana extracts are illegal for all purposes?

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